Gemstones have always fascinated humans. Compared to the drab browns and greys of the dirt and rock they’re pulled from, the rough crystals are of such otherworldly colours that in ancient times they were said to be of celestial origin and possess magical qualities.
Most gemstones were formed deep in the earth billions of years ago, often as a result of huge tectonic events bringing together different elements in an environment of extreme heat and pressure. Out of this seeming chaos come mathematically precise and consistent crystal formations in a dazzling array of colours and characteristics. Their true beauty is fully realized when the rough crystal is faceted and polished. A finished gem is a team effort – the product of nature’s genius, the miner’s toil and the craftsman’s skill.
Most of us are familiar with The Big Four: diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. These classics have long been the most sought-after gemstones – and for good reason. But there is a world of precious gems beyond these better-known minerals. There are tourmalines the colour of the water in the shallow bays of Smuggler Cove, spinels that echo the blue of the inside of a mussel shell, zircons that flash every colour of the sunset.
Tourmaline boasts one of the widest colour ranges in the mineral world. Sometimes more than one colour is present in a single stone. The colour zoning occurs when trace elements in the developing crystal change in composition or concentration, providing a visible record of the fascinating processes taking place under our feet.
The natural mineral zircon is often confused with the man-made diamond simulant cubic zirconia, and that’s a pity. The oldest piece of earth found to date is a 4.4-billion-year-old fragment of zircon crystal, and zircon’s first mention in writing is in the Old Testament. Zircon is doubly refractive: when a ray of light interacts with the crystal it is split into two rays – twice the sparkle!
Durability is one of the most important factors to consider if a gemstone is to be worn in a ring. For its amazing colour selection and relative durability, spinel is one of our favourites. There are intense cobalt blues, vibrant reds, or subtler hues of lavender and peach. It is the only gemstone that naturally occurs in grey, and it’s one of very few that can be found in light pink without being artificially enhanced. With a hardness of 8 on the Mohs scale, spinel is not far behind other gemstones that are hardy enough for daily wear. Diamond has a hardness rating of 10 (the highest possible) and sapphire and ruby are 9, making these the safest choices for an everyday ring. But if the colour or cost of these minerals make them not right for you, then spinel may be the solution.
Another important factor to consider is whether your gem has been treated or enhanced. Most gems on the market have been heated to intensify or alter their colour. This treatment is usually permanent and can be considered an extension of the natural processes taking place underground, so it is often not disclosed. Other treatments should definitely be disclosed, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Synthetic gemstones have been around since the mid-1800s, and they’re almost impossible to tell from the real thing. Sometimes synthetics are an excellent option, but only if the buyer is aware that this is what they’re getting. A good jeweller can help you navigate the vast and wonderful world of gemstones.
When you find the perfect jewel, it’s like finding buried treasure.
– Lesley Quigley, Designer, www.finlaysons.ca